US uranium producers begin preparations

25 February 2022

The last quarter of 2021 saw production at only three US uranium facilities, but producers are making preparations with a view to starting production from operations in Wyoming and Utah as the market strengthens.

Drilling work at Reno Creek (Image: UEC)

For much of 2020 and 2021, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) was unable to publish quarterly domestic uranium production figures as output failed to reach its reporting threshold. Figures have been published for the last two quarters, and according to the EIA's latest report, the fourth quarter of 2021 saw a total of 9,978 pounds U3O8 (3.8 tU) produced from three facilities: the Nichols Ranch in-situ leach (ISL) project and Ross central processing plant, both in Wyoming, and the Crowe Butte operation in Nebraska. This was 88% higher than the third quarter total of 5,297 pounds.

"2022 begins with the highest uranium price in a decade and a positive global outlook for nuclear energy not seen in a generation," Amir Adnani, CEO of Uranium Energy Corp (UEC) told shareholders this week.

The Texas-based company's USD112 million acquisition of Uranium One Americas (U1A) from Rosatom's Uranium One Group, completed in December, means it now has two production-ready 'hub and spoke' in-situ leach platforms with processing facilities in Wyoming and South Texas, as well as four fully installed wellfields, six additional permitted or development-stage satellite ISL projects, and a portfolio of "under-explored" projects, he said.

During 2022, he said, the company will work to file updated technical reports on its new projects. In Wyoming, pairing UEC's Reno Creek ISL project with the Irigaray processing plant - part of the U1A acquisition - is anticipated to provide "significant" capital savings and operating synergies. An operational review for the potential capacity expansion of the Irigaray Plant to accommodate satellite production at the fully permitted Ludeman and Moore Ranch projects is also planned for this year.

The company plans to expand capacity at the Hobson processing plant, which sits at the centre of its South Texas hub-and-spoke production platform, working towards amending its operation licence to increase production to four million pounds per year, doubling its current licensed capacity. The company also intends to advance the Burke Hollow ISL project "towards growth and production-readiness", Adnani said.

In March 2021, UEC made its initial purchases under an initiative to build strategic inventory of physical uranium. The inventory will support future marketing and production efforts, accelerate cashflows and bolsters the company's balance sheet as uranium prices appreciate, Adnani said. The company's latest reported portfolio stands at 4.1 million pounds U3O8.

Meaningful programmes

Consolidated Uranium on 17 February announced it was planning and implementing initial work at three past-producing US uranium projects, described by CEO Philip Williams as the first "meaningful project-level work programmes" in the company's history and "an important step in advancing these key US projects back toward production."

The Toronto-based company is working in conjunction with Energy Fuels, from whom it acquired the Tony M, Daneros and Rim mines in July 2021. The three conventional uranium mines, which are in Utah, are located near Energy Fuels' White Mesa mill, with which Consolidated has a toll-milling agreement.

Preparatory work at Lance

2022 is a "pivotal year" for Peninsula Energy as its prepares for a restart of operations at the Lance ISL project in Wyoming, the company's CEO Wayne Heili said on 17 February.

The Australia-based company has allocated USD3.4 million for a programme of "early preparatory works" which it says would facilitate an accelerated restart of operations should a final investment decision be approved. The programme will include development work on a new mining area, the start of work to convert existing ISL facilities to low pH operation, and "limited" production operations at two existing mine units that were previously operated using alkaline ISL chemistry. Some portions of one unit - mine unit 2 - have already been restarted, with production streams going to the Ross plant for recovery of residual uranium.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News